A religious leader, top academics, and pan-democratic lawmakers called for restraint early on Monday morning amid spiraling tensions at the Polytechnic University, where protesters had engaged in violent clashes with police since Sunday morning, culminating in an unprecendented police warning that they may use live ammunition on people who use deadly weapons against officers.
The auxiliary bishop of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, Joseph Ha, flanked by a group of pro-democracy lawmakers, spoke to a group of police officers near the university at around 2am in an attempt to start a dialogue with the commanding officer.
“We have no intention of charging. We hope for a peaceful resolution,” Ha said. “You can see we don’t have any masks, no weapons, we just want to communicate and help ease the situation.”
Officers shone bright lights back at the group, with one yelling for them to leave the scene immediately.
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung told RTHK that the group were turned away by police on multiple occasions when they asked to speak with the commanding officer. He said he had tried to call the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to appeal for her to allow people inside the university to leave peacefully without being arrested, but he couldn’t get through.
Cheung said senior police officials the lawmakers contacted also refused to give any promise that those inside would be allowed to leave.
He said the most important thing now was to make sure the police don’t follow through with their threat to use live ammunition against protesters who attack them.
“We think that by communicating with some of the protesters inside, many of them are willing to leave peacefully, so we would like to see this whole fiasco end in a peaceful manner rather than the police having to storm in and start a bloodshed, a massacre”, Cheung said.
Meanwhile, the heads of Polytechnic University, Baptist University, City University, the University of Science and Technology and University of Hong Kong issued a joint statement urging all parties around Poly U to exercise restraint.
The leaders appealed to students, alumni and other people to leave the scene immediately as the day-long clashes continued after midnight.
The Polytechnic University’s Student Union also appealed for calm.
However, reports from the scene paint a grim picture of growing desperation, with protesters convinced that they’ve been surrounded by police.
The police have said the university is the scene of a riot, and everyone present are under suspicion of taking part. Photos have emerged showing many volunteer first aiders with their hands tied and apparently under arrest, while reporters say they have been searched and had their documents scrutinized by officers.
More photos seem to show officers carrying semi-automatic weapons. Officers had on Sunday used tear gas, non-lethal rounds, and water cannon against the protesters. One officer was shot in the leg with an arrow; a police armoured vehicle was set on fire and forced to retreat; and officers say a driver tried to ram a group of police with a car; in addition to scores of petrol bombs that were thrown at riot police by masked protesters.
The force has ordered everyone to leave via a single exit at the north end of the University, at Block Y, but a social worker who’s at the scene reported on social media that people are too scared to comply because people who’ve gone to that exit have been arrested, and they don’t believe they can leave safely.
He also said many people at the university – including kids as young as 11 or 12 – want to leave but cannot, because the police have the entire campus surrounded.
Last updated: 2019-11-18 HKT 02:38